Saturday, March 6, 2010

Celibacy in Hinduism

Most of our Gods were married. Brahma to Saraswathi, Indra to Sachi, Siva to Parvathy, Vishnu to Lakshmi and Bhoomidevi, Ganapathy to Riddhi and Siddhi, Subramanya to Valli and Devayani, Krishna to Rukmini,Satyabhama and many more off the records, Rama to Sita, Sastha to Poorna and Pushkala, Balaji to Padmavathy.

Most of our Rishis were also married. Atri married Anasuya, Agastya married Lopamudra, Jamadagni married Renuka, Bharadvaja married Susheela, Vasishta married Arundhati, Gautama married Ahalya, Bhrigu married Khyati, Angiras married Svadha,Smriti,Sati and Sraddha, Kasyapa married Aditi, Diti, Danu,Kadru, Vinita,Surabhi,Sarmas,Muni,Khasa,Krodha Arishta and Ila, Pulastya married Preeti, Pulaha married Kshama and Kratu married Sannati.

They were all following dharma.

Brahmacharya is a word often confused with celibacy. Brahmachari means one who treads the path of knowledge ( brahma also means mantra). There are four stages of life which a man has to go through. The first stage is called brahmacharya in which the focus is on acquisition of knowledge. Then he graduates into the grihasthasrama or that of the householder wherein so many duties and responsibilities including procreation are taken up by him. The third stage is vanaprastha or going to the forest for retirement after finishing his duties and finally sanyasa to attain mukti.

The student is called the brahmachari and this stage begins with the initiation ceremony called upanayana. The student is expected to observe strict discipline so that he remains focused on the path of knowledge. The brahmachari is supposed to

1. Stay in Gurukula and observe all rules.
2. Take bath every day an worship Devas, Rishis a and Pitrus and perform Samidadhana (agnikarya).
3.Avoid honey, meat, perfumes, garlands and ornaments,women and sweets, sour items.
4.Avoid harm to all beings.
5.Avoid oil bath, applying anjana, footwear, umbrella.
6.Relinquish desires, anger and greed.
7.Avoid music, dance and musical instruments.
8.Avoid gambling, debates, gossip, lying, looking at women with desire, embracing women and harm to others.
9.Sleep alone.
10.Beg for alms every day and hand it over to the teacher.
11. perform service to the teacher.
12.Show respect to the teacher and not to sit in front of him unless ordered to do so.
13.Eat inferior food and wear inferior clothes than the teacher, get up before the the teacher gets up and sleep only after he goes to sleep
14.Sit at a lower level than the teacher.

and so many more ...........Abstinence in only one among them.

These are all applicable during studentship. For the householder the rules change. The above mentioned Rishis observed brahmacharya in the first stage and later matured into the next stage.

Celibacy is a rule during brahmacharya but an exception subsequently.Even during brahmacharya while performing the daily samidadhana the brahmachari prays "mayi medham mayi prajam mayyagnistejo dadhatu" - Lord Agni, give me intellect, give me children and give me brilliance. It is not life long celibacy that is envisaged for the brahmachari.

The sages attained the highest realms of spirituality even when they were married and householders. Many of them had more than one wife and many children. Their spiritual content is not known to have depleted on account of that. There may be occasional stories such as those of Visvamitra and Menaka and the essence is not virtue of celibacy but breaking of a vow.

The religion considers abstinence as a rule to be followed during studentship, not necessarily a virtue to be observed lifelong.

The whole problem starts when it is made to look as if Hinduism is yoga and meditation. Yoga or to be more precise Hadha yoga is just one of the methods for spiritual growth among hundreds. In yoga, the body is the sole and whole medium for spiritual transformation, hence all this focus on the body. All bodily functions are kept strictly under control in this method including food intake, sleep, rest, postures etc. There are even concepts like reversal of the apana hence total abstinence. Yoga is individualistic, hence collective dharma has little role in it.

Abstinence even in thought is essential for success in yoga.

In Hindu religion procreation is a dharma to be followed by the householder whereas in yoga abstinence is a rule to be observed and any deviation an impediment in growth.

Manu smriti declares that abstinence during the first four days of the cycle and on parvas as the rule for the householder.

The media is full of discourses where the virtue of celibacy is extolled because the speakers mostly belong and have exposure only to the yoga school of thought(no offence meant). This creates confusion in the common man and he starts thinking that it is a sin to be engaging in grihastha asrama.

For hadha yogis celibacy is necessary, because they need to preserve all sorts of energies in the body and channelize them in the upliftment of kundalini shakti. Not for the ordinary religious man. Only the wrestlers and weightlifters need to develop those bulging muscles and heroes the six pack.